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Opinion: Democracy in Myanmar remains a captive

The release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest has led to jubilation in the streets of Rangoon. However, the future of democracy in the country still looks bleak, says DW’s Sybille Golte.

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The people of Myanmar have been waiting years for this moment. In the final hours before the release of Aung San Suu Kyi was announced, supporters gathered in front of her modest house in the city of Rangoon.

An entire people's hopes for freedom, justice and democracy rest with the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Suu Kyi has dedicated her life to those values. Open and ready to talk - yet unyielding in her attitude - she defied the dictatorship for years and paid for it with her freedom.

Now, she is finally free. But does that mean that democracy in Myanmar has now become a possibility? Hardly. If the ruling junta of generals had democracy in mind, then some sign of it would have been seen in last weekend's elections.

The opposite was the case. The ballot was a farce. It was nothing more than a fig leaf for the continued dictatorial rule of the generals. The dispute over this badly staged public-relations show remains.

Sybille Golte

Aung San Suu Kyi's release is a calculated risk on the part of the generals, says Golte

It is obvious that Aung San Suu Kyi's release is just an act meant to symbolize the regime's supposed openness to the rest of the world.

The generals are entirely free to once again imprison the opposition leader under some pretext, if her presence becomes uncomfortable for them. That is something that has happened many times in the past.

Of course, the release of such a symbolic figure does pose a certain risk for the country's rulers - but this is a calculated risk.

If it does come to a popular uprising, there are tried and tested methods of dealing with this. The generals can always set the tanks in motion, as they did during the uprising started by Buddhist monks three years ago.

Natural disasters, famine and poverty still dominate the lives of its people, despite the country's abundance of natural resources. That is of little consequence to the generals, as are the repeated protests made by human rights organizations and the United Nations. Numerous mediation attempts and diplomatic offensives have borne little fruit.

The power of the generals is based not only on their tanks but also on friends in high places, upon whom they have always been able to rely.

For a start, there is Myanmar's neighbor China, which gives cover to the generals. Even India always puts its economic interests in Myanmar's natural resources ahead of a push for democratic values. The ASEAN organization of South East Asian states, to which Myanmar belongs, also holds back from criticism. That would mean setting standards for the other members of the alliance.

Aung San Suu Kyi is free, but democracy in Myanmar remains captive to the military. One has to fear that the unwavering Nobel Peace Prize winner may soon share that fate once again.

Author: Sybille Golte (rc)
Editor: Kyle James

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